Sleep and Dreaming 8 Tips for Getting Back to Sleep in the Middle of the Night By Julia Childs Heyl, MSW Julia Childs Heyl, MSW Julia Childs Heyl is a clinical social worker who focuses on mental health disparities, the healing of generational trauma, and depth psychotherapy. Learn about our editorial process Updated on February 23, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Yiu Yu Hoi / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What to Do Don’t Turn the Lights On Avoid Blue Light Guided Breathing Don't Stare at the Clock Do Something Boring Progressive Muscle Relaxation Visualization Figure Out the Root Cause Sleep is an essential pillar of wellness. For optimal cognition, a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night is recommended. However, we all know that sleep training a baby, stress, and traveling are just a few ways we end up getting less sleep than we need. Outside of life circumstances, sleep disturbances arise due to many factors. Chronic pain is a known trigger for sleep issues, often due to pain becoming so severe it halts the sleep cycle, resulting in waking up in the middle of the night. A 2019 study from The Journal of Aging and Health found loneliness to indicate more sleep disturbances, correlating poor sleep quality with loneliness amongst aging folks. We can imagine individuals of any age experiencing loneliness may be particularly impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic. What to Do If You Can’t Fall Back Asleep Missing out on much-needed hours of sleep can take a toll on you physically, emotionally, and mentally. If you find that your sleep disturbances impact your life to the point where your daily functioning suffers, it is time to reach out to your medical provider. While there may be underlying causes for sleep disturbances that require a professional’s support, there are things we can all do to improve our sleep hygiene regardless of the cause. So, we gathered eight tips you can rely on to get you back to snoozing in no time. Don’t Turn the Lights On Let’s say you find yourself awake with little confidence you’ll be falling back asleep anytime soon. You may feel a temptation to flip on the light so you can walk to the bathroom or read a book. Our bodies are ultra-sensitive to light exposure, especially during the hours our body expects to be asleep. Turning on the lights can disrupt the amount of melatonin released in your body, thus triggering wakefulness. Tip: Get a Night Light Instead If you happen to find yourself waking up to use the bathroom more often than not, it may be worth installing a nightlight so you can safely see your way without feeling fully alert by the time you’re done taking care of business. Avoid Blue Light When we’re unexpectedly awake in the middle of the night, it can be super tempting to roll over, grab our phone, and get to scrolling. However, it is crucial to avoid the urge for the same reason mentioned in the above tip. Blue light also messes with melatonin production. While lights of all colors can suppress melatonin production, blue light is particularly potent. When our brains are exposed to bright light, we naturally produce less melatonin. Remember, melatonin is the hormone that helps us feel sleepy, so having less of it means it is harder to fall asleep. Besides, scrolling through the news, social media, or—worst of all—your emails will wake your brain up, making it even harder to fall back asleep. Try Some Guided Breathing It is common to hear meditation recommended to aid any sleep woes. Meditation is an excellent option and ideally should be used before bed for optimal rest throughout the night. For those who are meditation novices, a meditation app can be helpful. However, we just explained why light isn’t your friend for these midnight wake-ups, so that means grabbing your phone to use a meditation app upon jolting awake isn’t ideal. Instead, try some guided breathing. The 4-7-8 breathing technique is a relaxing exercise that soothes the parasympathetic nervous system. Breathe in for four counts, hold your breath for seven counts, and exhale for eight counts. Repeat a minimum of four times and see if you start to feel sleepy. 'Why Can't I Sleep'—Why You're Not Sleeping and How to Get More Rest Refrain From Checking the Time We’ve all done it. We realize we aren’t going to fall back asleep instantly as we had hoped, so we find our eyes settling on the clock, obsessively watching every minute pass. Though this is difficult, try your best to avoid checking the time. Anxiously watching the clock tends to spike anxiety and may encourage you to calculate how little sleep you'll be getting. Tip: Move Your Clock Out of Sight Happen to have a clock right in your line of sight when you’re in bed? Try moving it somewhere else to nip that temptation in the bud. Do a Boring Activity in Low Light Been staring at the ceiling for what feels like hours? Rather than laying in bed and wishing yourself back to sleep, it is actually helpful to get out of bed and try a relaxing activity—just be sure to keep the lights dim. For example, try keeping an adult coloring book and a small pack of crayons handy for a sleep-friendly activity. This works because it keeps your brain preoccupied, turning off any stressed-out thoughts you may have about missing out on some much-needed sleep. Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation Progressive muscle relaxation is a mindfulness exercise that can work wonders on body tension. Furthermore, focusing on your body rather than your mind can promote further relaxation since it quiets mental chatter. It is rather simple, too, making it easy to turn to when you’re lying in bed. As you breathe in, begin to tense a group of your muscles. Then, when you exhale, relax that same group of muscles. Try to do this exercise from head to toe, starting with your facial muscles and ending with your feet. Repeat as needed. Visualize Your Worries Disappearing Are you worried about the task you forgot to do at work? A conversation with your spouse you’re dreading? An upcoming stressful event? Then this guided visualization is for you. As you lay in bed, bring up the image of the worry-inducing event. Perhaps you see yourself sitting in your boss’s office or driving to an obligation you’re not interested in going to. Notice the details that come into frame, how your body feels as you allow yourself to lean into the visualization rather than fight the discomfort. Once you feel you’ve taken in all the details and nuances, pretend you’re taking a whiteboard eraser and imagine wiping out the image entirely until you see a blank wall. Continue this as often as needed until you feel relaxed and sleepy. Determine the Root Cause While this final tip isn’t specifically for lulling you back to sleep, it is important. First, refrain from drinking coffee at least 6 hours before your usual bedtime. Eating heavy meals or snacks, drinking alcohol, watching tv, and intense exercise should be avoided for a couple of hours before bedtime. If you find yourself experiencing sleep disturbances regularly, it is time to reach out to your doctor for some support. Substance abuse, trauma, and depression can all be contributors to sleep issues—don’t be afraid to seek the help of a trusted mental health professional as well. A Word From Verywell You’re never alone. It isn’t uncommon to be jolted awake due to ongoing crises, suicidal ideation, or anxiety. If you’re in need of immediate support, there are services available to you that are more than happy to assist you. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. 9 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. 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In her clinical work, she specializes in treating people of color experiencing anxiety, depression, and trauma through depth therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) trauma therapy. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.